Brain Activity to Rely On?

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Science  01 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5961, pp. 43-44
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184242

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The human brain is a noisy place. The responses of single neurons to sensory stimuli are highly variable. Yet our conscious experience of the environment is stable and consistent. How can a stable conscious representation of the environment arise from noisy individual neuronal responses? Not all activity in the brain reaches consciousness, so one way to address this question is to examine how neurons respond when we are aware of sensory stimuli relative to when stimuli are unnoticed and invisible. On page 97 of this issue, Schurger et al. (1) use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that in the human brain, visible stimuli that enter awareness elicit spatial patterns of neuronal activity that are more reproducible than for invisible stimuli. This difference may be useful in studying brain function in conditions such as coma or schizophrenia.